Wednesday 22 December 2010

Working Peers

Lord Selsdon  asked yesterday - "in the light of the announcements by the Prime Minister to appoint a number of new life Peers as "working Peers", what is their definition of a "working Peer"".
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, the term "working Peer" has been used since the 1950s to refer to Peers appointed to the House of Lords following nomination by one of the political parties. Such nominations are subject to vetting for propriety by the House of Lords Appointments Commission.

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that little bit of history, but is he aware that the official advice given to me is that there is no term "working Peer" and that Members of your lordships' House, other than the 20 who hold positions and are paid from the public purse, do not work? Will he therefore explain to me whether I am right or wrong, and whether the only term of comparison that I can find in my research is correct; that is, that the nearest relationship is the worker bee? If we do not work, are we all known as drones?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I know that my noble friend speaks for himself in posing these questions. He said that he was glad of my little history lesson. I know that he has done endless research on this question. He is broadly right: there is no statutory basis for the term "working Peer". It does not appear in the Companion or in our Standing Orders. It has been used in the past as a term of convenience. My view is that all Peers come here to work; no Peer comes here except as a volunteer; and they fully understand the duties that they will have to perform when they get here.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is right to say that all Peers come here to work, but is not the question whether there is enough room for them to come given the propensity of the Government to appoint many more of their own Peers to flood this place?

Lord Strathclyde: We know, my Lords, that there is not enough room. However, I am delighted to say that, very shortly, I shall be receiving from my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral a report on retirement from the House. I hope that will point us in the right direction of finding ways to reduce our numbers voluntarily or perhaps even otherwise.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Geddes: My Lords, is there not an implication in the style of "working Peer" that those of us who are not deemed to be such are idle?

Lord Strathclyde: That was certainly the view in the 1950s when the term was first introduced. I do not think that it is necessary to use the phrase "working Peer" any more. It is certainly not one that I will use from now on and I shall encourage others not to use it either. I do not think that Peers should encourage being described either as working or non-working Peers.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: Could I ask the Leader of the House about working Ministers? Is he satisfied that a significant number of his Front-Bench colleagues are not in receipt of a ministerial salary? Is that not an undesirable trend, which was started by the previous Administration and continued by this one? I declare an interest as someone who was for a considerable time unpaid and latterly was paid.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord deserved exactly what he got. The noble Lord tempts me. This is slightly beyond the scope of the Question. There is a statutory limit to the number of Ministers. I regret that there are Ministers who are unpaid in your Lordships' House but they are all volunteers. They all signed up and knew what they were getting when they started. It is a great honour and a privilege to serve Her Majesty's Government in this House.

Lord Campbell-Savours: When the next crop of Peers is finally in, what will be the proportion of Peers on each of the Benches?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, appointments are entirely in the hands of the Prime Minister, but the coalition agreement indicated that pending long-term reform of the House, we would gradually move towards appointments made more in proportion to the political parties in the House of Commons.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, after the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, reports on retirement arrangements, what does my noble friend think should be done, if anything, about those Peers who do not take the enticement, but do not speak, do not vote, do not serve on committees and often do not attend?

Lord Strathclyde: That is exactly why I will await the final report of my noble friend: to see whether or not he raises any of those issues.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, could a working definition of a working Peer be a Member of your Lordships' House who spends a lot of hours in the Chamber very properly scrutinising ill thought-out, badly prepared and excessive legislation such as the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill brought in by this Government?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, in many ways, that may well have been a definition of those Peers who worked bravely on behalf of the Opposition in the dark years between 1997 and 2010. However, I indicated in answer to an earlier question that I thought the term "working Peer" was now outdated.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that without financial inducements there is no possibility of any Peer-or very few Peers-retiring?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, when the leave of absence scheme was introduced, several hundred Peers-or in the low hundreds-took advantage of it without financial inducement, so I do not agree with the noble Earl's premise. I also think that the public would find it very hard to understand why many who had been given the honour of being a Member of the House of Lords should then be paid to leave it.